Category Archives: Animation

Introduction to Animation

In order to understand the mechanics of animation we have to understand how movement is recorded by a live action camera. The movement of an actor can be recorded through a traditional cinema camera or digital cinema camera but regardless either way the camera is capturing those images at 24 frames per second. When the 24 frames are play back quickly the images appear as motion. You take any video clip and open it up in quicktime  and then pause the video. Then you can use the arrows on the keyboard to move forward frame by frame on that particular video clip and them you can see the individual pictures with in the video.

In traditional hand drawn animation instead of taking pictures of an actor artist draw the individual frames for each shot of the movie. An animator will sit at a light table and that will allows them to see several different frames at once so they can keep track of the movement of their character. When these images are played back a regular speed if will give the illusion of movement.


For a better understanding of the traditional process an animation grab a stack of post it notes and take a pencil or a pen and create one drawing on each post it, then flip through the stack. The advantage of using a computer for animation is you can select an object and set a key frame at the beginning of the clip and then move that object a set distance and set another  key frame at the end of the clip. Then the computer will go in and place that object on each of the frames that are need between the beginning and end to complete the animation for you.Even with the help of a computer animation is an extremely slow process. In order to figure out how many frames we need for a feature length movie which is around 90 minutes you have to 24 frames per second and multiple it by 60 seconds which gives you 1440 frames per minute.Then take the 1440 and multiple that by 90 for a 90 minute movie and you end up with 129,600 frames. This shows how much work it takes to make an animated film.

The Twelve Principles of Animation

In 1982 Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, both Disney animators defined the twelve basic principles of animation in the their book “The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation“. This was the cumulation of techniques used by Disney animators over the years going back to the 1930’s. The purpose of the twelve techniques is to produce the illusion of life in an animated character using the laws of physics.

 This book has been a great assest to new and experienced animators and if even referred to today with the use of computer aided animation.



Animation Timing

What is good timing ? Animation gives meaning to movement. Isn’t movement just getting from position “A” to position “B”, this seems like a good answer but it isn’t necessarily always the case. In nature for example things don’t move just in straight lines, and in animation and in the movies you don’t just see a flat screen, you see all sorts of different angles, different perspectives and this something all animators have to consider. When thinking about movement and timing we have to first of all think about the object we are creating. A simple circle for example can be anything from a cannonball to a soap bubble, the audience will only know what it is by the way it moves interacts with its environment. In order to animate a character from ‘A’ to ‘B’ the forces which are operating to produce movement must be considered. Firstly gravity  tends to pull a character down towards the ground. Secondly, their body is built and jointed in a certain way and is acted on by certain arrangements of muscles which tend to work against gravity. Thirdly, there is a psychological reason or motivation  for the action,whether they are dodging a blow, welcoming a guest or threatening someone with a revolver.

An animator has to worry about making their drawings and characters seem real, weighty, and solid as well as make them act in a convincing way. Now animation and timing is all cause an effect. Understanding the mechanics of actually movement is really important. This might sound really obvious but for example if a heavy object where to land on a see-saw with a lighter object on the opposite side the lighter object is going to fly into the air. Now that’s the natural reaction but as animators we tend to emphasize and over exaggerate things. Every object and character has weight and moves only when a force is applied to it. This is Newtons first law of motion. An object at rest tends to remain at rest until a force moves it, and once in motion it tends to stay in motion in a straight line until another force stops it. Also the lighter the object the less resistance it has to movement as well as less momentum. However the heavy the object the more force is required to move it as well as having more momentum. The way an object behaves on screen and the effect of weight that it gives, depends entirely on the spacing of the animation drawings and not on the drawing itself. It does not matter how beautifully drawn that cannonball is in a static sense if it does not behave like sane and the same applies to the  balloon, and indeed to any object or character.